wellness

The 'Vodka Vegetable Chocolate' theory will change the way you read books forever.

It is a truth universally acknowledged (at least by me) that the only diet worth following consists of vodka, chocolate, and vegetables. 

I'm aware that such dietary requirements severely diminish my chances of being listed as anyone's fantasy dinner party guest. Instead, this diet sounds like the kind of nourishment an angry six-year-old would demand of a frazzled parent.

An angry six-year-old with a penance for hard liquor and the spirit of a 'wellness influencer',  at least.

However, this has nothing to do with items you toss in your shopping trolley and everything to do with a theory that shapes the way you look at books, and how you recommend them.

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I love books with a passion so deep that if I were ever to aim those feelings towards an actual human being, they would instantly recoil from me with fear so overwhelming that the plot of Fatal Attraction would look like a nursery rhyme in comparison.

But the hard truth is, not all books are for all times (or all people).

Now, in the more advanced years of my life, I have made peace with the idea that my 'book diet' cannot be determined by what's topping the bestseller list, being shared across Instagram pages, or even by a recommendation that just tells me what the book is about instead of how it will make me feel.

A pressing issue that led me to develop the 'Vodka Vegetable Chocolate' book theory and then force this practice onto my loved ones, to varying degrees of acceptance, over the years.

Here's how it works.

Vodka Books = Books that elicit feelings of dizzying excitement and sometimes fear. Best consumed all in one hit, and not on a school night, as they'll keep you all night and leave you with a bit of a hangover the next day. A highly enjoyable part of your diet, but not something you necessarily feel like consuming every day.

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Vegetable Books = Books you know are very good for you, and should make up the majority of your diet, but sometimes you just don't feel like reaching for them. Not because they're not tasty, more so because you know there's no quick sugar hit coming your way in those first pages. But you know they're good for you and once you're done, you're left feeling very satisfied.

Ready for dessert? Which leads us to...

Chocolate Books = Books that are sweet and comforting, that you save up like treats to devour in cosy settings or reach for when you're feeling a little out of sorts. Chocolate books are still brilliantly written (after all, creating quality chocolate is an art form), but they're also the books you can press into a friend's hands when they're down and know you're gifting them with some sweet escapism.

Using the Vodka Vegetable Chocolate approach is the perfect shorthand when it comes to recommending books but of course, the only snag I've hit so far is that not everyone places their books into the same categories.

For example, one person's vegetable book could be another person's straight-up vodka, depending on what genres you enjoy.

To help clear the system up a little, here are a few of my own Vodka Vegetable Chocolate books. 

 Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton and Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy are two of Laura Brodnik’s ultimate chocolate books. Image: Supplied.  

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Vodka Books

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Kicking things off with the first vodka book I ever read. When I was 14-years-old I borrowed a battered copy of Dracula from my school library and started reading it under my desk during my science class. I was so mesmerised (and also, terrified) by the original story of the world's most famous vampire, and the people he hunted, that I finished it that night under the covers with a torch and then waited for the sun to come up.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

I read this book on a plane and was so engrossed in it I didn't notice we had landed. It's a brilliantly written satirical thriller about a nurse named Korede and her younger sister, Ayoola. They have a typical sibling relationship, except for the fact that Ayoola keeps stabbing her boyfriends to death, and Korede helps to clean up the mess. Things come to a head when Ayoola starts dating the handsome doctor Korede has feelings for. 

The Stand by Stephen King

Pretty much every Stephen King book could be considered the equivalent of downing a goblet of vodka in one gulp, but I've gone with The Stand because if I think about the plot too long it makes me dizzy with fear. It's all about a weaponized strain of influenza that pretty much kills the entire world's population. The book then follows the few survivors who are left to try and survive in a horrifying new world.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Speaking of brilliant books that leave you dizzy and shaking... The Lovely Bones tells the story of a 14-year-old girl called Susie, who is tragically murdered by a man known to her family. Looking on from heaven, Susie watches her family deal with her death over the years and piece together clues about what happened to her. It's tragically beautiful and a complete page-turner.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Pretty much every book in Stieg Larsson’s thrilling Millenium series is the equivalent of having a bottle of vodka inserted directly into your veins (please don't try that at home). The series, featuring one of modern literature's most intriguing heroines, Lisbeth Salander, is a melting pot of corruption, murder, and mystery.

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Look, Young Adult books are not always taken seriously, but just because the protagonists are young, does not make their stories any less chilling. I dare you to pick up this book about teenagers locked in an arena and forced to murder each other and not read it all in one sitting. 

Mamamia Out Loud's Best Books To Read This Summer. Post continues after podcast.

Vegetable Books

The Colour Purple by Alice Walker

Set in the deep American South The Colour Purple is a story about African American women in the early twentieth century, centred on sisters Celie and Nettie. The novel contains extremely disturbing depictions of domestic and sexual abuse which are difficult to read, but it's also a story about love and resilience.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Look, once you get through the slightly dense prose (and the fact that there are dozens of main characters to keep track of in a story that is told across eight parts) it's quite the scandalous read. Set in Imperial Russia in 1874, it's pretty much all about an affair that causes a wave of destruction. 

Room by Emma Donoghue

The story is told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy called Jack, who is being held captive in a small room along with his mother by a man called 'Old Nick', who kidnapped his mother and has kept her imprisoned for years. Jack is the product of Nick raping his mother and the world of Room is all he knows. Their escape from Room is heart-pounding, but it's their immersion back into the real world that is the true complex heart of the story. 

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

There are many incredible books on feminism out there in the world, but this is one that has stayed in my mind since I first read it in 2014. The book is adapted from a TED talk of the same name by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It's personal essay style and looks at both the evolution of and the need for feminism through the eyes of Chimamanda, who writes about her experience of sexism growing up in Nigeria.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad 

Like many of my vegetable books, I forced myself to read this for a uni class and ended up appreciating it. The book is narrated by a character called Charles Marlow, tells his story to friends while on a boat anchored on the River Thames. His story is about his voyage up the Congo River after he is hired by a Belgian company to captain a river steamer in the recently established Congo Free State.

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World (which is also now a series on Stan) has always been compared to the more famous Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (another prime example of a vegetable book) but deserves its own serving of acclaim. Brave New World is a dystopian social science fiction novel about a world where people are engineered through artificial wombs and then placed into predetermined classes based on intelligence and labour. Published in 1932, it still regularly makes appearances on '100 greatest novels of all time' lists.

Any book by Mindy Kaling is chocolate for your soul. Image: Laura Brodnik 

Chocolate Books

Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes

Sushi for Beginners tells the story of Lisa Edwards, a glamourous magazine editor who thinks she's about to land her dream gig in New York... until she gets exiled to Dublin to launch a less prestigious magazine called Colleen. Ashling Kennedy, a professional worrier who has just been fired from her previous job at a tiny publication, lands a job as Colleen's Deputy Editor and the story follows the two women's professional and personal lives as the magazine's launch date looms closer.

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

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I read my copy of The Shell Seekers so many times that eventually the pages gave up and it literally fell apart in my hands. Shifting backward and forwards in time, the novel tells the story of Penelope Keeling, the daughter of unconventional parents and her three adult children. It's a cosy, but sometimes gut-wrenching story about family, love and loss. So beautifully written that every chapter feels like a familiar hug. 

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy

Speaking of books I've read until they literally fell apart... I've read every single Maeve Binchy book a dozen times, and, while I suggest you do too, I had to go with Circle of Friends when it comes to this particular chocolate list. It's the story of lifelong best friends Benny Hogan and Eve Malone who grow up in very different homes in the small town of Knockglen in 1950. Their lives change dramatically when they start attending college in Dublin. It's a story that shows the very best side of female friendships and the hardest sides of first love. 

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Yes, the movie was great, but the book trilogy is ever sweeter. Rachel, a professor, dates a man named Nick and looks forward to meeting his family in Singapore. However, she is shaken up when she learns that Nick belongs to one of the richest families in the country.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Yes, it's technically a children's book, but I'm in my 30s now and I still reread the entire series every few years. These classic books are about a young orphan called Anne Shirley who, through a twist of fate, is sent to live with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert on Prince Edward Island. It's a series about imagination, family, friendship, and also contains one of the very best love stories you'll ever read.

Why Not Me and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Yes, technically these are two different books but read them back to back and you'll have yourself the most hilarious, chocolate-filled afternoon. Mindy Kaling is one of the wittiest writers around and every one of her sentences is beating with heart. The books contain stories of her childhood and lead into her Hollywood years. Once you've finished them, you too will feel empowered to eat cheeseburgers in a ballgown in your car after you've had a bad day at work.

Tell us, what are your ultimate Vodka Vegetable Chocolate books?

Image: Getty/Supplied